G. M. Monks
Years have flown by and here I am, Buck Mulligan, having the pleasure—if pleasure is the right word and right words have served me well although wrong obfuscating, even clever misspelled ones, have their literary worth worth and what am I worth—of soon meeting Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway at one of her parties in this year 1924. In rain-drenched stinky Dublin I heard she’s the epitome of elegance—so they say. A good name, fame, glory be. I say. Some say I say too much. Faultless hostess. Hard to maintain perfection, but people say she does it with ease like a happy baby pooping. I’ve seen plenty of poop. Constipation poop. Diarrhea poop. Typhoid poop. Medical school was hard, but I made it in spite of the drinking. Showed them a thing or two or three and graduated with pride, in part to irk them, at the bottom of my class. A bottom feeder. Bottom feeders always find something to eat, to ingurgitate. I’m still drinking, guzzling, still working, still swimming naked whenever the chance. But pounds pudgier for twenty years have passed by.
Dr. Mulligan I am, no way perfect, definitely not elegant, oft working long hours days years in Dublin’s cold dumpy hospitals healing the sick, saving the wounded but finally escaped to London for a needed holiday. Good for you, old boy Mulligan. London, pinnacle of civilization, with the best royalty so they claim. How art thou? Blessed be your fine English moniker, if that’s your liking. Kings, queens. Yes. No. Royal show. Thank you. No thank you. I enjoy literature and discussing Shakespeare to high and mighty gatherings that some call pompous. Does that make me pompous? Never been accused. Oh, the writers in Paris. Envy swells. Me of them. Ezra his poetic hair, mustache, goatee. Foot and poet’s disease. Very strange but he bought me dinner a drink a cab home. James Joyce writes lunatic style. Scared of lightning, He jumped, turned white as chalk. I thought he was struck. Scared of dogs. Even little dogs. Was bitten as a boy—he claimed. Sings well. Tenor. Too Ra Loo Ra Loo. I sing not as well. Too Ra No Good Ra. Ha, ha. Loud drunken blue-eyed Hemingway. Wasn’t tall. Bought me champagne. Didn’t like it. He got mad. Drunken madness. Slow-moving Gertrude loved her chair, her throne and her Cezannes and Picassos decorating her walls. 27 Rue de Fleurus. How do I remember her address? Was rumored she enjoyed sexual masochism with her lover. What was her name?
Paris—love the dirty exciting city. High spirits and highbrow writers at Sylvia’s bragging commiserating gossiping questioning the meaning of life and art and whatever ensnared their curiosities. Should go there again, maybe every year. Maybe should’ve been a writer. Seems more exciting. Didn’t care for F. Scott Fitzsomething. I tire of surgery and sick bodies, the smells, dead bodies, dead babies, mothers weeping like warm death. More dead Irish babies than English. Stillbirths and dead mothers and widowers with six, seven, fourteen kids to raise. Felt bad for one. Gave him ten shillings. Should’ve given more. More. The English let the Irish starve. Hard to imagine one million skin-and-bone bodies finally dead. Famine’s been over with for how many years? Forget and forgive, Mulligan. Long live Irish pubs. Irish Free pubs. Dark and smoky. Pipe tobacco. Peterson pipes are best. Every day. Endearing places of camaraderie, debauchery depending upon how much my friends, especially Stephen the Kinch, and I drink the best ale or usquebaugh. Found moss growing in a pub during a rain-filled winter. Moss. Mizzle to downpours twenty-four hours non-stop. Sometimes a fogbow.
Dublin—miss it already. Too many sots. Sot sot sots. Tarnation. Purgatory if you’re lucky. Poor blokes. Not a believer. Could use a drink. It’s been a long trek to get to these steps. What will happen? No fortune tellers needed. Prepare for anything. Here I come. Doorknob. Be lighthearted. Will I ever get married? Want to. Walking down the aisle. Fool. Maybe. Maybe not. Be happy with a love. Mulligan needs love. True love.
It’s odd my second evening here in London knocking with a chubby pale loveless hand on Mrs. Dalloway’s fancy door due to a friend of Virginia Woolf, who got me an invitation. Thank her. What if something bad happens in this aristocratic house? Oh thank her anyway. I barely met her. Be nice. I can be. Truly want to be. Have pity—she’s a sweetheart but suicidal type I hear. I’ve known a suicide or two. Suicide won’t get you a church burial. Who needs one? Mortal sin. Venial sin. Peccatum mortale, peccatum veniale. Back to tarnation. Shouldn’t believe gossip. Although a nice aristocratic-looking face—Woolf. Such a poor depressing well-to-do life. Husband is well-mannered so I hear. Big Ben chimes nine o’clock. I’m late as usual. The house exudes excitement. Excite me. Excitation.
A servant answers the door. No calling card to give him so he takes my invitation. He announces, “Dr. Buck Mulligan.”
Fine foyer. Some heads turn, looking me over. Little blonde maid takes my hat. A lady says it’s wonderful to meet me and smiles and I return the gladness for I achieved my goal. Servant points me to the drawing room and walks away. A grand staircase in the Dalloway house. I like top floors. See for miles. Might I see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace up there? What else? Isn’t London mostly low-lying? No highlands. Some hills. Steven and Haines. Don’t see them much. What was the name of the tower we all lived in? Martel? Martello? Martello Tower. Me in medical school long ago. View over the harbor. Swimming naked in the cold sea. No swimming here, except in the Thames. Don’t swim naked. Glad I don’t live in London. Maybe. Maybe not. Haven’t saved any more people from drowning. Hero. Good to be a hero. H. E. R. O.
Impressive Dalloway house—chairs set round the drawing room and more rooms and more chairs. Italian vases, Chinese bowls, chintz-covered sofas, fancy paintings in gold frames, crystals, chandeliers, porcelain whatnots, not a speck of dust—thank the pretty little maids. I’ve seen three already in their starched white caps. I view my reflection in a mirror and reflect my thoughts—Doing good, Mulligan. Have gotten pudgier. Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold. Too much cream on porridge makes one old.
My God. Clarissa, Clarissa, Clarissa. She knows everyone. Her name ringing like a cowbell. Ring ding a ling. Cows come home. Milk your cow. Don’t starve. How many times do people say her name, hug, wonderful to see you? Aristocratic noise, clamor, babble. Listen. The smoking room is smoky and the men smoke cigars and drink Tokay I hear—too sweet for me. Takes maneuvering to get from one side to another. Could use an aristocratic smoke. Everyone dressed to the hilt. Hilt, hill, no shrill talk.
All the bodies I repaired in twenty rainy hospital years. Broken bones. Fistfight punches. Bloody broken noses. Bloody swollen eyes. B. S. E. Putrid odors. P. O. Bag the amputated limbs. Heart disease. H. D. Scarlet fever. Make yourself at home. Cigar smoke aromas. Flowers here, there. Enough for a funeral. Never liked funerals unless with Kinch and Haines and we’d make fun of the corpse if it was someone one of us disliked or we were in the mood for debauched humor. Was young and blasphemous. A joke of words after all I’ve seen. I’m tired. Needed this holiday.
Introduce yourself. Smile. Hello, thank you, glad to meet you, Count and Countess. Duke and Duchess. Thank you, Duchess. Lord Somebody. “I’m honored to meet you.” Polite. Lovely evening.
Mrs. Dalloway in her fifties I hear whispered and that she’s disappointed in her husband. He might be sixty. I’m forty-one; feel old. Her hair silver white, and blue eyes, but lovely in her pink-colored gown and diamond earrings, making sure everyone has what they want. That her guests are happy, perfect party, going from guest to guest making sure they’re not ignored. Chit chat chit.
“You look wonderful.” Chit chit. Repeat. “It’s delightful to see you again.” Chat chit. Repeats “Darling, darling.” Perfect cheerfulness. Repeats perfect smile. Should try that at the hospital. “How are your sons?” And another smile and mirth. Ha Ha Ha. A feminine perfect laugh. Melodic. Sweetheart, Hee, hee, hee. A very lovely very voice.
I could listen all day, hey. Have I drunk too much? She turns her head left, turns it right. Impressive profile. Not beautiful. An aristocratic nose. “How is Parliament these days,” someone, fat and perfumed, asks a fat perfumed lord.
Perfect English doilies on perfect chairs around the room. How are they made? Poor old Irish women make doilies and sell them. Never bought one. I’ll buy two when I return. Promise. I will. Maybe three and give them away. Give them back and she could sell them again. Charity. Be charitable. Hope, faith and charity. Holy mass. Never liked it. Haven’t attended one in years. Bless me Father.
Have small world in Dublin. Widen my world. Don’t stand in a corner looking stupid and out of place. I turn. I walk in and out, room to room. Wish Kinch was here. Mrs. Dalloway strolls in my direction. Holding out my hand, I say in my most polite way, “May I have the honor of your presence for a minute or two?” I notice a momentary look of a questioning forehead, then a smile and nod. “Mrs. Dalloway, I’ve heard wonderful things about you. I am so pleased to meet you.” A steady hand I have.
“I gather you say that to every lady you meet.” Her face bright and happy. Pink lips, pink cheeks.
“Not at all. Although I do say to most every patient I’ve ever treated, ‘I’m honored to treat you.’ I feel I’m giving them a pride pill. A hope pill. Imagine how they feel. If they had done nothing with their lives at least they made their doctor proud in their final hour. It makes death easier. A lot of them die. The old sot galoots. Did nothing good in their whole da… lives.” Almost swore. Idiot. Glad I caught myself. Damn. Shit.
She puts her hand to her open mouth for a second and quickly removes it like she was offended but tries to hide it. A real diplomat. Probably learned it as a child. It takes time to develop perfection.
I say, “I’m sorry for sounding pessimistic. Friends accuse me of cynicism. Talking about life’s worst. Everyone has faults. Except you I think.” I mellow my brogue. I’m in her unbrogued house. I like my brogue. Brogue you. I say her home is lovely and her staircase is impressive and she must have a grand view of London. A servant walks by holding a tray of drinks. Mrs. Dalloway says to take one. I obey like a good boy needing milk. Mrs. Dalloway has turned me into a little boy. Don’t mind. Doctor Little Boy. A relief, especially for a holiday.
Her daughter Elizabeth attaches herself to me when she hears I’m a physician. She has a lip-kissing mouth and eyes for a saint still enamored of the carnal world. Unfreckled skin fit for a royal child. Her dark hair in curls. Her body mostly hidden in a long blue dress. The bodice, neckline, two rows of white beads, pink embroidery between the beads and it’s tempting to touch the beads but I want to touch. Yes, I want to touch her bosom which I might’ve done if I was drinking in a Dublin pub. Her neckline exposes an inch of feminine flesh. She has in total about five inches of more goddessness hidden. I’m good at estimating measurements, length of wounds and how many stitches. I look up at her face. She’s blushing.
God did I make her blush? Behave yourself man, eyes glued to her bosom. You’re not in Dublin. “Your dress is lovely as are the beads and embroidery. My mother loved to embroider. It’s been some time since I saw such fine embroidery.” A lie but it mollified my offense. I didn’t mean to be a cad. I bow. She curtsies. She’s so well-bred; must write poems—Petrarchan sonnets, heroic quatrains, Shakespearean sonnets. Would she be happy with me? Lovely. Maybe eighteen, nineteen? Too young? No. Yes, she’s so young. Does she like Shakespeare? Maybe later. English. I prefer the Irish. Arthur Griffith. We Ourselves. The Easter Rising in 1916. Independence 1921. Cheers to the Irish Free State. Dublin smells. It’s where you belong Mulligan. Mulligan’s Free Choice. She wants to become a doctor and asks how hard medical school was.
Give the beautiful young woman a decent answer. Be polite, poooohohlite. No rash words. Encouragement. Look thoughtful. Yes, sir. “It was all study. Time for nothing but books, books, more books. Aye, I never studied harder in my life. Herculean exams. Tittle sleep. Well worth it. You’ll do fine.”
Do women get into medical schools? Few. Keep your eyes to her face, Mulligan. Does she have little nipples? I like little nipples on big bosoms. Bet she’s lush naked. You’re thinking like a cad. She’s just lovely. Better.
Woman with pretty face, dressed in yellow gown walks by. Man in frock coat follows. I own no frock coat. I look stupid in one. Stupid. Yellow-Gown returns. Elizabeth introduces me to Yellow-Gown. Lucky me. Mrs. Dalloway talks to Yellow-Gown. I don’t think Elizabeth likes me for she walks off. Bid adieu. What I do? What didn’t I do? Hello, goodbye. Yellow-Gown asks how long I’ve lived in London.
“Never have,” I say. “But it’s lovely city.”
Yellow-Gown leaves when a blond-haired, Lavender-Gown whispers something to her. I recognize no one except Mrs. Dalloway. She touches my arm and excuses herself and walks away and greets the Lord Mayor who just arrived. Lord Mayor? She has connections. Will I meet him? What should I say?
He’s leaving the room with Mrs. Dalloway. Frock coat man greets lady in green. Lots of talk and laughs. Sometimes raucous, like the whole room is infected. The laughter makes me laugh. Don’t know what the joke is. The laughter softens when the Lord Mayor enters again. They dawdle on. Two old faces look at me, smile, and turn away. Goodbye, so long, au revoir. I know some French.
I take my drink and think of sneaking upstairs for the briefest time to see the view. But what would I say if a Dalloway found me up there? I was looking for my coat. No, be honest. I want to view the view.
I open a door down the hall from the drawing room and a man with a fretful forehead is seated at a desk by a window covered with drapes in what looks like his library. I’m rarely a worried man. People have said I’m full of life. Have been ignorant and felt I don’t know much about the life I’m full of. Have swum against the tide. Luck kept me from being washed away. Hit and miss. The man looks up at me surprised. I’m surprised I became a doctor.
“Sorry, I should’ve knocked but your house is majestic. I wanted to see it. Can’t say I really know why I didn’t knock. Name is Dr. Buck Mulligan. You must be Mr. Dalloway. Pleased to make your acquaintance, if I may.”
Yes, Mr. Richard Dalloway invites me in as he pulls out a drawer, gets something, looks at me for a second, puts something back in drawer and shuts drawer. He says something urgent came up that he had to address. He leans back in his chair. Is he perusing me? Should I leave? Have I interrupted some great English thought?
He rubs his chin and leans forward, looking at me. “Your name is familiar. I’ve heard it before. James Joyce told me about a Buck Mulligan a year ago in Chichester. My wife and I were both there at the time.”
He asks me if I know James Joyce. He smiles when I nod a bunch of times, as if I know Joyce too well. He sips whatever he’s sipping.
This gets me curious to hear Joyce was talking about me. “What did he say?” I ask wondering if I’m overstepping boundaries. Some have accused me of being a cadger. “He liked your name. It has a ring to it. I think that’s what he said. He thought his was pretty ordinary except for his two middle names. It’s interesting how some things stick in your memory. Of the million things happening in a day, some you remember. Some you don’t. You’re the only Buck Mulligan he knows. I don’t know why I remember. We’d been talking about memorable names, like Charlemagne and Socrates, Plato, Attila the Hun, and then just everyday people with unusual names. He mentioned your name. Names. What would we be without a name?”
“So you know James Joyce?”
“Not really. Once in Chichester.”
“Nice party you have.”
“Yes, it is, but honestly I’ve grown tired of Clarissa’s parties. Her old lover came by last year. Our daughter found them together in her room on the top floor. They seemed surprised when she opened the door, like they were up to something. He’d been out of the country for years. Usually unrequited love dies out after years. He showed up at the party and we talked cordial and all. Even if so, I don’t care. Would’ve before. She’d never leave me for someone else. She enjoys security and I give her plenty. Who knows, maybe it’s what she needs to alleviate her doldrums. She covers it well. You’d never know.”
How does perfection suffer doldrums? He doesn’t sound like a jealous man. Whatever he’s drinking must’ve loosened his tongue. I guess Absinthe.
There’s a cigar humidor on his desk. Look at it and maybe he’ll offer me a cigar. Yeah, I’m a cadger. By gad he does. Nice man. He lights up his and it’s got a full but not overpowering aroma and I compliment his taste in cigars. I say I’d like to smoke mine back in Dublin and make my friends jealous if it’s all right.
He laughs. “I like you,” he says.
“It’s a nice library. Better than my office.” I don’t know if he wants to talk or wants me to leave. Don’t overstay your visit. After five minutes, uninvited guests get stinky like fish. I’ve known stinky fish. Some women, some men.
“Have a seat,” he says. “You like parties?” he asks.
“When they’re in a pub,” I say. He laughs. I’m pleased left, right and center and the in betweens I made him laugh more than my comment deserved. A gentleman. Drunken gentlemen are fun. A well-groomed mustache.
He tells an unfunny dumb joke. I laugh. He says that’s the worst joke ever told and I’m being way too polite. I like him.
Elizabeth comes in upset and wants to talk with her father. I leave and forget to take my cigar with me. Damnation.
I’m in the hallway, with another good drink in my hand, talking to three men and three women about James Joyce being a pain in the ass but I don’t say ass I say neck. Never heard so much talk about Joyce and his view of life. There’s talk about views. Views of life, views of the white cliffs of Dover, the best views in London, the view from the Eiffel Tower. I like views from the top and would love to get a good view of London. The talk turns to Paris and that new art they have called Impressionism.
“What’s that?” someone asks.
It’s new I say and they paint the way things look when light moves and changes. It’s almost like you’re squinting. Things aren’t very clear. Lighthearted color. Also they paint common people. Not like Gainsborough. I talk about Monet and Degas and I’ve seen some of their paintings when I was in Paris and Mrs. Dalloway, who just joined the conversation, says she was given a new-type painting done by some artist. She thinks the name is Degas. She had put it upstairs in her tower room on the top floor. She says it’s a small painting and it fit perfectly up there. It’s the first painting she placed there.
“I’d like to see it, if I may, if that’s a possibility,” I say with my polite and cheerful voice. I like that she has a tower room as if I have a secret connection to her having once lived at the top of Martello Tower when in medical school.
Mrs. Dalloway invites me and the whole group upstairs but I’m the only one interested, which pleases me.
By gad, we’re going upstairs. I’m behind Dalloway. She‘s got a little waist. What do I want? Touch her rump. No. Mrs. Flat-rump Dalloway couldn’t smother me with twice her little rump. She couldn’t with her petite bosom. I don’t mind a flat rump or little bosom. Hope for the best, prepare for anything. I realize she just said something.
“Mrs. Dalloway. What did you say? My apologies. I wasn’t paying attention. I was admiring your house. It’s a museum. Just the porce . . .porce . . . lain. Porcelain. Not to mention, every, everything else. Forgive give me.” Mulligan talk straight. “Yes, your home is a museum. Just lovely.”
“That’s so nice of you. I’m glad you came tonight. You’re a breath of fresh air.” Fresh air she called me. On the way up there’s hanging on the wall a framed letter to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Dalloway from Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Impressive. Getting old, too much standing. Step, step, step. Knees hurt. When the stairs get tough, the old get the stairs. I need to scratch my loins. She might see me. I tolerate the itch. On up is a painting of somebody, not at all Impressionistic. Mrs. Dalloway insists I call her Clarissa.
When we arrive at her tower room, she’s talking about having bought too many flowers but it was to improve her mood, but thinks they look excessive. I say they all look grand. A perfect selection of colors.
“I try. Making the world a more lovely place. To make people happy. That’s my goal. One needs goals. What would life be without a goal?” Clarissa tugs her ear and fiddles with her diamond earring. I wonder if she’s giving me a signal. I like ears. I like hers. Good for nibbling. Nibble. No.
“Yes, everyone needs a goal.” Don’t kill anyone in surgery. Righto. Didn’t mean to. Damn nurse sneezed, bumped into me. Hand slipped. Blood poured. Patient died but already had lost too much blood. Gave the widow two guineas to help her through. She called me a saint. I felt like a bosthoon that whole damn day.
Clarissa asks about my goals.
“That’s a grand question. Been so busy mending people no time to think. I’ve given up on doing anything, even one thing perfectly long ago. Just trying to do my best.” It’s stuffy up here so she opens the window. While we’re both looking at the painting and yes, it’s a Degas, I tell her people are collecting him in Paris.
She moves closer to me and says, “I’m tired of perfection. The first time it was fun. To be able to say I did something perfectly. Then you get a reputation. People expect it. A book is written about you. Then an honor becomes a curse. Oh I admit I enjoy planning parties, but halfway through I want to throw everyone out. Too many strait-laced rich people, but I have to invite all of them otherwise someone would have hurt feelings so I force myself and keep going. It must be like an addiction. I love parties, then hate them. More so this year. I’m glad the party will be over soon. People often leave all at once, except a few stragglers. Sometimes, I’ve wanted to curse.“
“My guess . . . you’ve never cursed.” I’m reflecting we’re having a private tête à tête. Like best friends. What is she going to reveal next in her tower room with the narrow bed? I envision us up here again having more tête à têtes and her telling me about her addiction.
“True as the sun rises in the east. It’s worn me out. Honestly. Would you like me to be honest?” she asks.
“Of course. We should both be honest. We’re friends, aren’t we?”
“Very much so. Sometimes you know immediately that a real friendship is in the making. I’ve come to hate perfection. I feel like a museum statue and I would fain at times to break free. To not care for a day or two. Three would be magnificent,” she says. Right in front of me she puts on an immobile expression, her eyes look right through me as if I wasn’t there. How did she? Stoic shoulders and a straight back. I imagine her turning to marble—a museum perfect specimen. Sir, how much is the Mrs. Dalloway? Beautiful statue. Five thousand sterling you say? Well worth it. She blinks and then smiles. “You could be an actress,” I say. I’m delighted she smiles and does a wispy giggle.
For honesty’s sake I say, “I never achieved perfection. Once maybe. A surgery. Twice if lucky. Maybe. One time I saved a drowning swimmer. Only a hero for the day. Hero for an hour.”
“You’re amusing. I want to laugh but think I shouldn’t.” Her eyes change. She looks right into my eyes asking for help. Yes, she’s asking for Mulligan’s help.
Suddenly I realize I could be Pygmalion and she’s my marble statue. History repeats itself not in front of me, but in me. Could I free her? Is Pygmalion true? Seize the moment. It won’t come again.
“Did you ever tell anyone else you feel like a statue?”
“Not a soul, not even my good friend, Virginia.”
She’s talking in confidence. I’ve become her doctor. People do that—confide in doctors, especially tired but cheerful ones like me. The things I’ve heard. Her husband working diligently in a chair on the first floor in his library doesn’t know what dilemmas are happening up here. Statues are inexperienced with real men with beards and smells and farts. And cigar smoke, drunken stories. Statues don’t smell except of stone or wood or clay. She smells like flowers. Apples. Lavender. Green fields under a welcome rain.
My impulses want to kiss her. Prudence stops me. I’ll be a gentleman. Will. Will be. She moves closer. Will. I could put my hand around her waist. Will be. She has a little one. I’ve never loved an older woman.
1924—It’s leap year. She could choose me. She touches my lips with her finger.
I think of her husband. Somehow, she knows. People tell me I’m easy to read and she says, “Richard never comes up here. Everyone has probably left by now. It’s gotten so they all leave at once and I know Richard—he’s asleep in his chair. He’ll come to bed well after midnight. We’re not close in a sensuous way. I never loved him that way and I think it can be said of him. Mutual respect. Not a whiff of romance between us.”
“But I surmise, in fact I’m sure there were men who wanted to marry you and you politely declined.”
“That’s right. You’re very intelligent.” She smiles. Her teeth are straight and perfect. Wouldn’t it be a shame if she had a missing front tooth on her notable face? Shouldn’t think that. She likely married because she didn’t want to be a spinster. Wise.
I want to make the Pygmalion myth true. It’ll put me in the same standing as crazy James Joyce but he’ll never know. Crazy man. He could write a story about me.
She smiles and raises her skirt and I see her sparkly silver shoes and stockings. Is Mrs. Dalloway seducing me? She takes a deep breath and our eyes lock. Scintillating silence. Hot, hot. She rubs her lips together. I do the same. Hot, hot. I’m fearful of Mr. Dalloway finding us and throwing me out the window to my death but the myth is seductive. Yes Pygmalion—a Greek myth. Mulligan man knows myths. The Irish love their crazy myths. The fairies. The bad luck pookas, and the merrows. Am I going to bonk Mrs. Dalloway? Flesh in flesh out. Meshing together. One one. Two become one.
She raises her skirt and I see above her knees. Is she a siren luring me to my death out the window and down to the pavement? Splat. Scull cracked open. Blood. Who cares? To bonk Mrs. Dalloway. Famous Dalloway wants to spring out of her statue. Bring her to life, Mulligan. Be a hero. Why am I immobile—her eyes implore. I’m loath to leave. Say something Mulligan.
Speechless. Speak. She nods a wonderful nod. I take her in my arms. It’s cast in stone I’m going to die. A grand way. Be open. Tarnation. Not a believer. Hesitation. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I’m not scorning. Helpless ‘tis I. Tumescence. No defenses. She’s winning. She’s dying for carnal love. Simple. I’m into her silky underwear and Buck Mulligan bonks ethereal Mrs. Dalloway in her tower room on the little bed that’s probably been up here unused for love for years and the lights of London sparkle out the window and afterward we’re sitting happy, holding hands, but I never say the word bonk to Clarissa, looking out toward the welkin. I might tell Kinch if he promised not to tell—I bonked Mrs. Dalloway. Would I tell James Joyce? Never. He’d be jealous. I wouldn’t tell Virginia Woolf. She’d be mad. It’s splendid Woolf didn’t come to the party.
A few minutes later, Clarissa’s face tightens, her eyes narrow and I know what’s coming because I’ve seen it before—women trying not to cry. She cries quietly trying to hold it in. Did she know I was thinking of telling Kinch? I won’t, won’t. I’ll keep the night secret.
“I shouldn’t have,” she says. What’s got into her, she asks not me, but herself like I can’t hear her with me sitting right beside her. She answers herself, cries in my arms, says she loves me for who I am, free and real, we kiss; she says it was a mistake. We kiss. She cries and pushes me away. A mistake she says and I say I’m sorry. Then I understand. She’s afraid and wants to fold herself back into the marble statue. I tell her she looks impressive and she is perfect. “It was perfect. Nothing never ever ever ever better. Everything was. Your lacy underwear, your legs and aromas and flesh and moist and secret parts and everything. Everything. Your impetuousness has freed your passions. Your lips. Your silver white hair. Your eyes. You look like Goddess Dalloway.” Hallowed be thy name. Love is sweet.
“Really. Truthfully?” She looks receptive. A moment of transmutation. Will she break free?
“Truthfully, Mrs. Dalloway. Clarissa. Accept it, you are perfect. The world needs perfection here and there for balance. Be inspiration for the masses. One in a million. To the masses be kind. Be kind. It gets us through troubling times. Art is inspiration. Spontaneity frees. You are art. The performance of art. The painting alive. The sculpture alive. The painting painting itself. Be the heroine. Serve, serve. Serve your people. Your husband serves in the House of Commons. You serve art and perfection and happiness. Be free to be perfect. An impressionist perfection.”
Eyes wide, she brightens and stands up, looks out the window, looks at me and says, “Yes. Yes. I understand.”
I’m Pygmalion Yes Buck Mulligan has become Pygmalion and Mrs. Dalloway is alive and walks like dance and talks poetic and breathes freedom What a day glory be Goddess sex on my holiday The top of the staircase The tower room and Degas made it happen What a view and London sparkles brighter and Big Ben chimes the hour Kiss kiss kiss The ancient glorious Greek myth comes alive and we throw lovely kisses to each other and wave goodbye till next time if it be if she wants as I descend the stairs Richard Dalloway sleeps and snores on a chair in the drawing room and I quietly open the door to his library and take my cigar I left behind and resist the temptation to take another No thief am I but yes a cadger yes yes yes Mulligan is a cadger Cadger
G. M. Monks lives in Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in Coneflower Café, Birdland Journal, The Hunger, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, The RavensPerch, Kansas City Voices, Alehouse, and elsewhere. Awards with publication include: one of two finalists in the 2020 Breakwater Review Fiction Contest, and runner-up in the 2016 Big Wonderful Press Funny Poem contest. She was a finalist in the Arts and Letters 2020 Unclassifiables Fiction Contest and she received an honorable mention in the 2016 New Millennium Writings Award competition. Bedazzled Ink published her debut novel and nominated it for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway Award for New Fiction. For more about her, please visit gmmonks.blog